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It might seem like starting anew for the Carolina Hurricanes, who have been one of the NHL’s best teams this season.

The Hurricanes have had nearly a two-week layoff as they head into a Thursday night meeting with the Montreal Canadiens in Raleigh, N.C.

Even before the NHL-wide shutdown for a few extra days around Christmas, the Hurricanes had games called off, largely because of would-be opponents’ COVID-19 issues. So they have to crank it back up again.

“We pushed it pretty hard here just to try to get back up to speed,” Carolina coach Rod Brind’Amour said. “You don’t very often have this much time off. I felt like we needed to just kind of hit the ground running or at least give us our best chance.”

The Hurricanes have played just two games since Dec. 12, winning both of them with restructured lineups due to COVID-19-related absences. The last of those came Dec. 18, so the layoff has been extensive as four games during that span were postponed.

The Canadiens were back in action Tuesday night, falling 5-4 in overtime at Tampa Bay.

The wait to get back in games has been longer for the Hurricanes.

“We’re trying to get these games in,” Brind’Amour said. “I know our guys want to (get back to playing games), that’s for sure.”

Most of the sidelined Hurricanes have returned to the ice, though goalie Frederik Andersen entered the protocols during the layoff. Goalie Alex Lyon has joined the team’s taxi squad.

“We need to get a lot of guys back to see where we fit with all that,” Brind’Amour said of the roster make-up that includes the NHL reinstating a taxi squad to assist teams through potential roster upheaval. “You just can’t look too far down the line because everything is always evolving.”

Things could be trending in the right direction for the Hurricanes.

“We’ve been fortunate enough to have almost our whole roster on the ice, so we’ve been able to work on our game a little bit,” goalie Antti Raanta said of practices this week.

Montreal’s return to game action Tuesday marked its first game since Dec. 16 as it had four straight games postponed. The Canadiens have won just one of eight in December (1-5-2).

The Canadiens began a scheduled three-game road trip with nine players in COVID-19 protocols, so an inexperienced lineup at least provided some hope based on the developments against Tampa Bay.

“Little things can be making a difference in giving you success,” Montreal coach Dominique Ducharme said. “We have to duplicate that every night. I liked the way we played.”

The Canadiens are still dealing with a revamped lineup. For instance, Rafael Harvey-Pinard made his NHL debut Tuesday night, scoring a goal in the process.

“It’s huge for me and I have to keep working,” Harvey-Pinard said.

The teams played back on Oct. 21, when Carolina’s scored a 4-1 win at Montreal. Sebastian Aho, who is one of the players to miss games this month, scored two goals that night for the Hurricanes.

–Field Level Media